Ask anyone who has done it, and they will tell you that giving a cash donation or volunteering time to help out a favorite charity feels good.
That seems like common sense.
However, it turns out that science has looked deeper into that “feel good bump” we get from engaging in philanthropy. It turns out that there is a physiological component to the act of giving that produces a warm feeling called “giver’s glow.”
Stephen G. Post is the director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Compassionate Care at the Stony Brook University of New York. He said “giver’s glow” can be traced to a chemical pathway in the mesolimbic portion of the human brain.
Dr. Post said philanthropy can trigger “several different happiness neurotransmitters.” That includes endorphins and dopamine. They have long been recognized to include feelings of euphoria and well-being in individuals. They can also engender feelings of serenity, tranquility, and inner peace.
Dr. Post said this experience is an evolutionary development of one to two billion years in the making. He points to the fact that Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” concept is often misquoted and misread – or at least inappropriately emphasizes the idea of “kill or be killed” competition between species.
Darwin’s second book made the forceful case that cooperation and comity among all animal species were far more conducive to survival. In short, when everyone helps others, the whole group benefits, increasing survival chances.
The evolutionary model of group selection helps explain why the brain responds favorably to giving and generosity in a way that matches the behaviors necessary for life.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed a direct link between giving time or providing aid to others with reduced risk of mortality brought on by stress. The latter has contributed to significant killers, such as heart attacks, strokes, and chronic long-term diseases.
The study examined 846 adults in Detroit. It looked at people who had never engaged in philanthropy or given a helping hand. It found statistically significant higher stress levels linked to higher mortality in those people.
An even larger study of 2,000 residents of Marin County, California, showed that people who volunteered regularly had reduced mortality rates more significantly than that produced by exercising four times a week or attending church once a week.